Es Devlin Emerges as Herself On the World’s Stage

Issue 1 | From Somewherelse

Written by Sarah MacDonald

It’s a peculiar thing occupying an influential artistic role without the spotlight positioned directly on you. Of course now for set designer and artist Es Devlin, the spotlight is coming in hot and bright. 

The British set designer, 48, is inarguably one of the most influential set designers in the world. The Guardian recently proclaimed it, in a sprawling, interactive feature on Devlin. In the nearly 25 years that she has been in this role, Devlin’s mind has amplified musical and theatrical geniuses while subtly centering her own. Devlin’s creative career began in theatre at Bristol University where, learning from the drab, rudimentary theatrical set design on campus, she moved her big ideas into the music world. 

Devlin has worked on some of the most important stages touring around the world for at least the past decade. In 2005, she met Kanye West, which would prove to be an influential meeting of the minds. In 2011, she worked on the Watch the Throne tour with West and Jay-Z. She has also worked on Miley Cyrus’s Bangerz Tour, and the Weeknd in 2016 after the release of Starboy. She’s recently worked with future pop treasure Sophie, whose image was projected onto the Louvre during a Nicolas Ghesquiere Louis Vuitton Spring/Summer 2020 presentation.  

Devlin’s job, in essence, has been to bring to life the vivid visions of her creative partners, these musicians. But Devlin is also incredibly artistic in her own right and leaning into that creativity on a large scale. 

In 2020, at the Dubai Expo, Devlin, as the first woman commissioned by the United Kingdom’s government, will show the Poetry Pavilion. An enormous feat in literature, architecture, artificial intelligence, science and technology, the Poetry Pavilion is a 20 metre-high cone comprised of rows of slats extending outward into a circle. On LED screens, poems will scroll across the entirety of the facade. These poems will be in English, Arabic, Chinese and French. Inside the pavilion, visitors will be part of the Choral Space, a collective soundtrack featuring choirs across the world. 

Yes, Devlin will be the first woman to undertake this project, but it’s worth highlighting that she will, too, have a team of women. Devlin routinely works predominantly with women from the Bartlett School of Architecture and the Royal College of Art on her team. Devlin told Dezeen of the opportunity that: “My hope is that the fusion of architecture, poetry, music and science in this female-led project will attract and inspire girls and young women to investigate areas of science and technology that they might otherwise have felt weren’t for them.” 

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Devlin told The Guardian that her creative process includes sitting in a dark room with light lining its edges, meditating for about 20 minutes. It resembles something like a stage, a place of familiarity and comfort for Devlin. Here, she said her mind can act in luxury as though it doesn’t really need to do anything at all. It is here, one imagines, where her ideas for the next decade and beyond for her work, as well as her collaborators, will blossom.

Photos via Es Devlin’s Instagram
Written by Sarah Macdonald